Students in Rural Tennessee Struggle to Access High-Speed Internet

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As the pandemic crisis has forced many schools to adapt to an online-only curriculum, students in rural areas are having a difficult time adapting to this new way of learning. Across the U.S., almost 17 million children lack the high-speed home internet access needed for online learning, according to an Alliance for Excellent Education analysis published in July 2020.

The problem has become so bad for some families, that some students have been forced to go to public fast food restaurants such as Taco Bell in order to access their public Wi-Fi to complete their homework assignments. In Chester County, about 90 miles east of Memphis, nearly half of the county’s residents lack access to a single internet service provider.

The lack of adequate network infrastructure not only affects the future of student education in the state, but has also had a negative impact on the economic growth due to minimal broadband access. The limited options can be at least partially blamed on the lobbying efforts of ISP conglomerates such as Comcast and AT&T who have largely been successful in keeping out other potential service providers.

In order to temporarily solve the student access problem, school districts including Nashville’s where an estimated 20 percent of families lack access are providing notebook computers and internet hot spots to help underserved students participate in their online classes.

Although this is a short-term solution, it appears that long-term help is on the way thanks to a $10 million investment by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas of Tennessee. This timely investment is part of the $100 million Congress allocated to the ReConnect Program through the CARES Act.

How this funding ultimately gets distributed remains to be seen, but Cachengo hopes to offer a more innovative solution. The smart storage startup has plans to lay down new fiber cable in remote rural areas while building standalone ‘micro’ cell towers with a range of up to 2 miles. This initiative will be used to build out what the company is calling the Cachengo Autonomous Network (CAN) with the intent of becoming a standalone carrier able to provide cellular services and high-speed broadband internet to rural Tennessee.

Cachengo has already laid fiber cable at the Carroll County Airport and in nearby Huntingdon, where the company is headquartered. On average, it takes roughly 4 months to complete the construction needed to lay down one new fiber connection, but this is only the beginning. At the heart of this ambitious vision lies a much simpler necessity according to Cachengo CEO Ash Young, “Maybe cellular service isn’t as basic a need as food, water, and shelter, but it should certainly be in the top 10.”